Overwhelmed, weighed down by stress and anxiety, in constant motion racing from one obligation to the next, and questioning if what you’re studying is right for you. These are common feelings that college students across the country face. I was one of these students last year, and I felt lost.
The repeated mantra of “college is a time to explore what you want to do” did little to ease the gut feeling I had: something was wrong. I feared that the school I was at wasn’t the right place for me and that I wasn’t studying something I would want to pursue in the future. I ended up taking a gap year after my freshman year of college. Taking this year off at this time was a way for me to ease these anxieties, focus my vision, and determine if where I was was where I truly needed to be.
Most people have heard of taking a gap year after graduating from high school and before starting college, or during the year between undergraduate and graduate school. However, there is also the option of taking a year off somewhere within your undergrad years. Mixed in with the benefits of taking this type of year off are a few challenges as well.
I dove right into my gap year in the fall of 2017 by hopping on a plane to travel through Europe for a month with 34 people I had never met before. In January, I returned home to have minor surgery, and afterword took a few classes at a local university. As I signed up for courses in topics that genuinely sparked my interest instead of simply fulfilling my college requirements, I also started a rigorous workout program that inspired me to incorporate fitness and health into my daily lifestyle. Then another summer passed, and now I am here at Tulane, hoping to shed some light on the positives and negatives of my experience taking a mid-college gap year.
1. Missing Out On College Life
In an age of social media, it’s hard enough being in college and looking at your friends’ experiences at their respective schools and thinking that you’re missing out. Being out of school completely amplified this feeling for me.
2. Lack of Structure
As much as we may dread having to hit the alarm for an 8:00 am, it’s actually really nice to structure your days around schoolwork because it keeps you on a schedule. Taking a year off largely made daily routines difficult to create and maintain.
3. Questions, Questions, Questions…
This con definitely overwhelmed me at times. Many people including my friends and family members kept asking me what I was doing with my time off, if I would return to school, etc. While these questions were a sign that the people in my life cared about me, they also took a toll on me because I felt that I was constantly being questioned and judged for my decisions. The hardest part about receiving these questions was that I knew the implications that came along with them; I was made to feel that I was slacking, unmotivated, or not likely to return to school.
1. Traveling and Gaining New Experiences
While many may spend a gap year at home or working, I was fortunate enough to spend this time traveling. I decided to travel through EF Ultimate Break with a group of 18 to 29-year-olds. I still talk to a lot of them now, even a year later. This trip was life changing. I also felt that I was able to enjoy my travels at the best possible time (while I was still in college) as opposed to waiting until I was older.
Being able to experience and explore these beautiful, magnificent, and historic countries that I had always dreamed of going to was the most fulfilling adventure I could’ve dreamed of. For the first time in a while, I felt I was where I was meant to be. I gained perspective with each city I went to and began to appreciate the smallest things as grand: the pasta we made from scratch on a rooftop in Italy, the long, drawn-out meals in Spain where people took the time to speak to one another and truly get to know each member of the group, and forgetting all about checking my phone for hours on end.
2. Attaining a Healthy Lifestyle
Throughout freshman year, I struggled with tonsillitis and bronchitis. I got each infection multiple times and I ended up having my tonsils taken out during my gap year. This certainly falls on the less glamorous side of the gap year experience, and is something that others probably won’t go through specifically. However, healing from sickness can also be about repairing mental health, especially after being in an environment where you were extremely stressed and anxious. Becoming healthy looks different for different people, and means doing whatever you feel is necessary to feel ready to succeed and thrive in your own college environment.
For me, it was doing a fourteen-week exercise program once I got home, where I woke up early every morning and adhered to a strict diet. While this may sound unflattering to say the least, it surprised me to learn how much I loved fitness and health. I had always considered myself a relatively healthy person that incorporated food and exercise into my lifestyle. However, by staying consistent and eating cleaner than I ever had, I felt incredibly energized and confident. I now incorporate fitness and healthy eating into my everyday life. This program helped me become the best version of myself that I could possibly be, and realize what I was capable of achieving.
3. Finding My Path
This was the most crucial reason that I took time off from college. I took classes at a local university without feeling the intense pressure financially and socially to take classes that were only involved in my major. This experience gave me time to think about what I truly wanted to pursue: communications. From my first introductory communications course, I knew that I had finally found a subject that I was passionate about and something that would lead me to a desirable and fulfilling future. The ability to dive into a field that was not offered at my previous school was an exciting and relieving moment for me. In the month that I have been at Tulane so far, I have only become more certain of my passion for this field, and I’m confident, comfortable, and content to be on a path that is right for me.
When looking back at all of the upsides and downsides to taking a year off, I am reminded that the time I have not spent in school has been the hardest yet most transformative time I could’ve imagined. Now, I feel I am finally pursuing a path that I am deeply passionate about in an environment where people are friendly, driven, and happy to be where they are. As I was packing my suitcase to head home for a few days off for fall break, I smiled because I realized something: I didn’t want to leave.
COVER PHOTO: Lindsey Drucker